Barbara Payton: A Look into the Troubled Life of a Blazing Blonde Bombshell Who Ruined her Career and Life

Barbara Payton was an actress and fashion model. She was an attractive blue-eyed blonde with peroxide hair whose life ultimately broke down, primarily by her actions. Although she had a reasonably successful career, her addiction to alcohol and drugs ultimately led to the end of her life. She became the subject of several books following her death, such as ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story’ and ‘LA Despair: A Landscape of Crimes and Bad Times.

Modeling career

Barbara began modeling after hiring a photographer to take photos of her in fashionable outfits. After gaining the attention of clothing designers, she went on to find work in advertising. After being hired by the Rita La Roy Agency in Hollywood in September 1947, she soon began working in print advertising, notably for Studebaker automobiles and clothing ads in magazines like Charm and Junior Bazaar.

Acting career

Barbara Payton made her acting debut in 1949 with the movie ‘Silver Butte’. Her first significant role came in the film ‘Trapped’ which was released in the same year. It was a semi-documentary about the Treasury Department. The following year she appeared in the violent noir thriller ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)’. The film follows a criminal who escapes from prison, kills his partner in crime, and returns to the life of crime.

She also appeared in several other films in the 1950s, including ‘Only the Valliant (1951)’, ‘Run for the Hills (1953)’, ‘The Great Jesse James Raid (1953)’, and ‘The Flanagan Boy (1953). The last significant role that she played was in the 1955 thriller ‘Murder is My Beat’. Edgar G Ulmer directed it. In the movie, a businessman is found dead, and his girlfriend is convicted of his murder.

Barbara Payton Spouses

Barbara eloped with her high school boyfriend, William Hodge, at the age of sixteen. An impulsive act of teenage rebellion, the marriage was later annulled by her parents. A few months later, she dropped out of high school.

In 1945, Barbara married her second husband, combat pilot John Payton, with whom she had a son.  While she was a housewife and a mother, she felt confined and left her husband for her career.

Payton married actor Franchot Tone in 1950. Payton began an affair with B-movie actor Tom Neal while engaged to Tone. Frequently, she alternated between Neal and Tone in public. After only two years of marriage, the couple divorced in 1952.

In 1957, Payton married a 23-year-old furniture-store executive, George Anthony Provas. The marriage lasted only for a year.

Payton married her fifth husband, Jess Rawley, in 1962, and they remained together until her death.

In addition to her five marriages, Payton also had affairs with several actors and famous personalities, including Howard Hughes, Bob Hope, Woody Strode, Guy Madison, George Raft, John Ireland, Steve Cochran and Texas oilman Bob Neal. Barbara juggled two boyfriends at once, actor Franchot Tone and actor Tom Neal, and they fought almost to the death for her affection.

How Barbara ruined her life and career

Payton’s life and career were ruined by her addiction to drugs and alcohol. It is believed that her autobiography, “I Am Not Ashamed”, was ghostwritten by another person. Barbara had one favor to ask her ghostwriter, Leo Guild. She did not want to be paid in cash or by check. She requested red wine as payment because there were claims on her money.

After emerging from a sex worker career in Chicago in the early 1960s, Payton became addicted to heroin and went from entertaining johns with Lila Leeds to living in living conditions right next to the clubs she once commanded. By the time Payton was over 21, she had become a scandalous sexpot and actress and had been dubbed the “new queen of clubs” by a journalist.

Barbara was beaten up by an extra and drug dealer in the middle of the night in a dispute over rent. A drunk stabbed her in 1962, and she received 38 stitches to heal the wound. She is accused of giving two fur coats to the owner of a bar in May 1954, at a time when she had little money, to make him tear up her $200 bar tab.

Payton spent many lonely evenings at the Coach and Horses, one of Sunset Boulevard’s dive bars. He wrote poetry there and spent many nights alone. She lost teeth, was beaten, and forced to sleep on bus benches.

Barbara Payton’s death

Payton was discovered passed out near the trash in the Thrifty Drug Store parking lot on Sunset Boulevard. She was subsequently taken home to her parents in San Diego because her liver was deteriorating, and she died on May 8, 1967, at the age of 39. In San Diego, California, she was cremated and buried at the Cypress View Mausoleum and Crematory.

Written by Alicia Linn

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